Tampa Bay Water rejects Swiftmud proposal to divert water to lower Hillsborough

06/18/07 Seán Kinane
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Today the Board of Directors of Tampa Bay Water met at their headquarters in Clearwater to discuss a plan to divert water from the Tampa Bypass Canal to the lower Hillsborough River. The plan was proposed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, in order to improve the health of the River and to meet requirements for minimum water flow and levels. But as WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports, the plan met with opposition from Tampa Bay Water and was not implemented.

The minimum water flow for the lower Hillsborough River must be 24 cubic feet per second -- or CFS -- during the dry months of April, May and June, and 20 cfs for the rest of the year. Swiftmud proposed five new sources of water to be sent to the lower Hillsborough including building a pipeline to shunt water from the middle of the Tampa Bypass Canal to below the dam on the Hillsborough River. The Swiftmud plan was supported by the environmental group Friends of the River. And by the City of Tampa, which gets much of its water from the reservoir above the dam.

But there was opposition to this plan by Tampa Bay Water because they feel they would be losing water under this plan, as their Senior Manager for Source Rotation and Environmental Protection, Dr. Alison Adams explains.

“Tampa Bay Water staff supports the establishment of a minimum flow on the river. Absolutely, without a doubt, we support the establishment of a minimum flow on the river. Recovery strategy must achieve minimum flow, which is a daily requirement. Current District proposal does not achieve this. The proposed recovery strategy does not protect existing legal users and will adversely affect Tampa Bay Water.”

[The reason a pipeline was suggested in Swiftmud’s proposal was because the other option, pumping the water from the Tampa Bypass Canal into the reservoir, could see 40 percent of the water lost to evaporation.]

In addition to the proposed pipeline, it was proposed that some water be pumped from nearby Sulphur Springs into the river below the dam. Swiftmud’s executive director Dave Moore said that the proposed improvements would help the river and would not have an impact on Tampa Bay Water.

“Both, which are being 100 percent paid for by the District [Swiftmud] and Tampa, for a total cost of less than 2 million dollars, gets us by far the majority of the minimum flows by the end of this year, without having, as we can tell, any impact on Tampa Bay Water.”

Once it looked like the current plan would be rejected and the parties would have to continue to meet in order to come up with a new proposal, there was some concern that The City of Tampa should not be involved in the discussions because of sunshine laws. But Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said that because it involved an agreement between the City and Swiftmud, and because Tampa was paying for Minimum Flow and Level, or MFL improvements, her staff should be present.

“I have just recently put forth a proposal to increase City of Tampa water rates, they will double in five years. And in part, it is because it will pay for the MFL improvements. … And what Dave Moore and Swiftmud have proposed does not cost Tampa Bay Water. And to suggest that Tampa Bay Water does not have the responsibility to protect the environment in any way, although it will be taking considerable waters out of the Hillsborough River, is just not a progressive way of thinking.”

Tampa Bay Water voted to reject the current plan and have the interested parties, including the City of Tampa, meet to come up with a consensus plan to restore Minimum Flow and Levels for the Lower Hillsborough River. Only Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader opposed that plan.

Phil Compton, Chair of the non-profit group Friends of the River, was disappointed with Tampa Bay Water’s decision not to support the current plan.

Well, they decided that they need to continue to argue about whether or not Tampa Bay Water, which takes 85 million gallons a day out of the Hillsborough River and the Hillsborough River basin, if Tampa Bay Water has any obligation to let the River have any of that water. The City of Tampa is going to do its part; the District [Swiftmud] is going to help. Tampa Bay Water is going to become the largest user of water from the Hillsborough River and the Hillsborough River basin with the bypass canal, where they actually take water out of it. But they don’t seem to think they have any responsibility as a steward of the environment to help the Hillsborough River recover.”

Compton thinks that Tampa Bay Water wants to profit from selling water to Tampa.

“There seems to be a very big disagreement as to how much water can you take out of the reservoir and still provide the City of Tampa with its water at the pressure to deliver water to the taps of all the people in the City of Tampa. … I suspect that Tampa Bay Water thinks that the City of Tampa should do it all and the City has limited capability. The City of Tampa is buying water from Tampa Bay Water right now. I think Tampa Bay Water wants to sell the City of Tampa more water and with the cuts in state property tax revenue that the city is going to face, I think that would hurt a lot.”

A related proposal was passed that kept open the option for Tampa Bay Water to file a legal petition against Swiftmud. Mayor Pam Iorio was the only person to vote against.

Tampa Bay Water also voted to approve its 2008 budget of two hundred ten million dollars. The board voted not to include a proposed one-cent fee increase to fund an outreach campaign that would have encouraged residents to decrease the amount of water they use for irrigation.

The next Tampa Bay Water Board meeting is on August 20th. To learn more, visit their website – tampabaywater – org .

For WMNF News, reporting from Clearwater, I’m Seán Kinane

Learn More:

Tampa Bay Water

Friends of the River (Hillsborough River)

SWFWMD (Southwest Florida Water Management District; Swiftmud)

SP Times article

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